Andrew Lloyd Webber calls for more diversity in 'hideously white' theatre

Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber has warned UK theatre risks becoming sidelined over a lack of diversity as part of a report slamming the industry as “hideously white”.

The composer and creator of music for hit shows including Cats, Phantom Of The Opera and Jesus Christ Superstar spoke of his fears as part of research he commissioned to investigate the lack of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) performers and stage crew.

The report, titled Centre Stage: The Pipeline Of BAME Talent, was published through the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation and says the British theatre scene risks becoming irrelevant if it does not fix the disparity between a desire for change and practical implementation.

In the report’s introduction, Lord Lloyd Webber warns: “I passionately believe that the stage needs to reflect the diversity of the UK population or it risks becoming sidelined.”

He urges “responsibility and specific action” from organisations and individuals across the industry including “arts sector bodies, drama schools, theatre producers, actors, creative teams and philanthropists”.

The report says: “If the situation continues, there is a real danger that not only will black and Asian young people stay away from the theatre as a profession, they will stay away as punters and without them in the audience, theatres will become unsustainable, as they are forced to compete for a dwindling ageing, white, middle class audience.”

The qualitative research features interviews with more than 60 actors, theatre directors, drama students and teachers.

It found BAME students came up against “financial barriers” and warned drama teaching and theatre visits in state schools are under threat.

The report also revealed BAME actors were turning to the USA for professional breaks and concludes the “UK theatre is hideously white”.

It urges drama schools to provide finance so “50% of places are accessible to students for low-income backgrounds” and argues for Arts Council England and other sector bodies to set up an online resource of opportunities and schemes that serves as a “one-stop shop for aspiring BAME theatre professionals, secondary schools and sixth form colleges”.

It calls on producers, directors and creative teams to ensure “colour blind” auditions for non-race specific roles and for theatres to “include more shows written by BAME playwrights”.

Quoted in the report is Emmanuel Kojo, an actor of Ghanaian descent who attended a Manchester comprehensive and was funded for drama school by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation.

He said: “People always say that black actors have to work three times as hard to establish themselves as their white counterparts and unfortunately it is true.

“Look at all the British leading actors in Hollywood, they are nearly all white and went to public school.

“I have never identified myself as a black actor, I have always just thought of myself as an actor, but since starting in this profession I have been made aware that I am a black actor. We won’t be equal until there is no prefix when people talk about us.”

Lord Lloyd Webber
(Ian West/PA)

Emmanuel , who has been nominated for a UK Theatre Award for his role as Joe in Sheffield Crucible’s production of Show Boat, revealed a lack of training for make-up artists who work with black actors.

“It makes you feel so little. It’s just not good enough. It is really important for people to have the right training and realise that this is important.”

The research addresses Emmanuel’s fears over training of crews, calling for productions to “ensure that lighting and make-up technicians are trained to deal with the specific need of BAME actors”.

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